Divers working just 100 feet off Florida’s Treasure Coast on Saturday recovered 48 solid gold coins dating back 300 years. The coins, called escudos, were part of the treasure aboard 11 Spanish galleons wrecked by a hurricane on July 31, 1715. The coins, in excellent condition and bearing dates between 1697 and 1714, have an estimated value of $200,000 to $250,000.
A company called 1715 Treasure Fleet Queen's Jewels maintains the rights to the Sebastian, Fla., salvage area, just north of Vero Beach. According to its owner, Brent Brisben, searching for 300-year-old treasure is like “searching for a needle in a haystack,” but on Saturday his crew's efforts paid off big time.
Four divers, working in just six feet of water, started pulling up gold escudos from the sandy bottom. “I love the sound of gold,” Captain Greg Bounds told NBC affiliate WPTV. “This makes it all worth it.”
Brisben explained to CNN that the recovery efforts are not as glamorous as they would seem.
"You may expect to see a big galleon on its side with treasure chests overflowing, but it's not like that at all," he said. "With shipwrecks that old, most of the organic material like the actual wood of the ship is gone, due to deterioration. What's left are mostly metals and pottery... china, silver buckles, bronze cannons and gold coins."
The treasure still waiting to be recovered off the east coast of Florida is estimated to be worth $550 million — about 20% of the treasure that went down during the horrific 1715 hurricane that took 1,000 lives. At the time, Spain sent sailors back to the Americas to salvage the wrecks, but experts believe about 80% was recovered.
Interestingly, there were few gold coins registered aboard the sunken galleons, so it is assumed that the recovered coins were illegal contraband being smuggled back to Spain. The amount of gold aboard the 11 sunken ships remains a mystery.
Brisben told CNN that the 48 recovered coins would be sold to private collectors, with the proceeds going to finance future salvage efforts.